As a gnome on wheels, I was surrounded by books. I took advantage of my easy access to books on astronomy, science, and philosophy. Not being able to afford books in addition to those assigned by my professors, I would take out library books to read on the subway during my two one-hour commutes between university and home. (Paradoxically, reading on the noisy subway provides a kind of silence that aids concentration.)
Cosmology, quantum mechanics, and I were born at the same time. Astronomy, once thought to be the ultimate manifestation of absolutes, was rapidly shedding them. Our galaxy was no longer the universe, even space and time were no longer absolute. At that same time, quantum mechanics dealt a heavy blow against the very concept of absolutes that is with us to this day. Absolute zero is not quite absolute. There is an inescapable vagueness about the reality of singularities, points in space, and infinities. Tracing the evolution of the Big Bang is not possible beyond 1034 seconds when time itself is supposed to have begun. Lately, even the absolute speed limit of light is being re-examined. So far, Classical Science and Quantum Mechanics are at irreconcilable odds.
Yet, the technological extension of our senses combined with our intellectual faculties confirms the validity of absolutes expressed by language, including (of course) those of mathematics and geometry. Spherical and Hyperbolic geometry do nothing to diminish the absolutes of Euclidean geometry. All three geometries are imbedded in one and the same reality. The four forces of the universe are absolutes, with or without an alleged ‘God Particle.’ Reality includes absolute zero, the speed of light, and Planck Time. But what those absolutes don’t give us is the ultimate absolute of Existence and Consciousness.
However, if you are young and interested in moral absolutes, perhaps some of the following tips will be of use to you.
- Genes and ambiance are in play at conception and continue to do so throughout our lives. A search for absolutes requires a will beyond the reach of nature and nurture.
- There is a profound difference between sophistication and militant sophistry. The latter is intellectual suicide. To deny the absolutes of existence and consciousness themselves is to deny the essence of being human: the sapient faculty of Homo sapiens. The stacks are filled with cookie cutter attempts to deny consciousness, existence, or both.
I suggest that you glance through a book or article before you take the time to read it. You need not read further if you spot a phrase like, “If a tree falls and no one hears it, was there a sound?” Novels (especially murder mysteries) should be read beginning at page one, of course, but it is different with books or articles on science or philosophy. Don’t waste your time on riddles.
I recently glanced through a lengthy featured article in Discovery magazine. At a glance, I quickly noticed that this was a dead end article, currently very popular in science magazines. So, I turned to the very brief last paragraph. Sure enough, that last paragraph summed up the essence of the article in two or three sentences, and then added a single word, ‘Maybe.’ That prompted me to go on to the next page immediately. That technique exponentially beats multitasking as a timesaver.
- When I was young, seeking absolutes in the stacks was cumbersome. Gathering scientific absolutes was relatively simple, but I wasted a great deal of time probing the stacks in the hope of harvesting philosophic absolutes.
Today, I am in awe of the Internet and its electronic hand-held progeny (despite their exasperating Lilliputian keys). They are the Stacks of Stacks. They are at the center of the Information age. But their virtually infinite corridors are capable of wasting a great deal of your time if you surf through them without an absolute or two of your own.
- I’m speaking, of course, of moral absolutes. I acknowledge that my suggestion that you find your own absolutes is heretic. All the more so because absolutes do not allow for exceptions. But, as I implied in my first tip above, the will I speak of is absolute. It is also attainable without convoluted arguments and need not be proved. In fact, it is axiomatic. Its common term is ‘character.’
- In Part One of this article, I stated that the Information Age (for all its splendor) poses a challenge for this generation. That is because the Information Age is also purely relativistic. As I flip through web sites of every stripe, I’m stunned by the proliferation of articles that ignore logic, consistency, and facts.
- Young people are far better than I at navigating through the Internet. But when I surf the net for information, I’m disturbed by the misinformation I constantly encounter.
When my generation explored the paper stacks, it had to be more selective about the books that were worth reading. The rapid multiplicity of images floating through cyberspace has exacerbated the worst characteristics of a relativistic age.
- If you are young, you might find (as I have) that the only reliable moral absolute is within yourself. For example, you might consider your word as an absolute. The same is true of loyalty or honesty. I am neither boastful nor dishonest when I claim that those characteristics are my absolutes and therefore my anchor. They are easy to live with, absolute, and totally free from the constraints of genes and ambiance.
If you haven’t already found an anchor for life and feel that you need one, you might consider absolutes that are not subject to the confusion of a relativistic age.